Announcing and seeking feedback on the READI philanthropy database project

by PeterSlattery5 min read6th Oct 20212 comments

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Community infrastructureMoral psychologyEffective giving
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[This post will probably only interest a few forum users but I intend to summarise the project here and link to it from relevant social media posts and emails] 

With help from @David Reinstein, @Luke Freeman and my colleagues at READI, I am testing if it would be useful to i) set up and maintain a database of research examining how to promote charitable giving, and ii) post related social media updates. 

These two things (the database and supporting posts) are hereafter referred to as the philanthropy database project.

Below is a summary of some of the key information about the philanthropy database project. I would welcome any feedback in this form, particularly feedback from research users (e.g., people at organisations promoting philanthropy).

Why am I doing this post and project?

Last year READI completed a rapid overview of reviews exploring 'What works to promote charitable donations?'.

We wondered if we could get extra value from our research by developing a supporting database of research and an approach for disseminating relevant research to ‘practitioners (e.g., people working in charity/fundraising).

Over the next three months I plan to test that idea by publicising the philanthropy database project and comparing the outcomes against some assumptions/thresholds (e.g., do we get x visits/downloads/supportive comments).

I will then decide if I/we should invest more time in this. 

Why might the philanthropy database project be useful? 

Helpful for researchers: Researchers spend a lot of time finding and curating references. As a personal example, when I started my PhD I estimate that I would have saved 20-200+ hours if I started with a database of relevant research that I could build on and learn from rather than starting from scratch. 

Helpful for organisations: Organisations often consume research and desire to be more evidence-driven (and perhaps particularly in EA). The organisation I work at (Behaviour Works Australia) is often contracted to find and share academic research (and summaries of that research) with organisations to aid their decision making.  We also receive a lot of engagement with research dissemination and 'explainer content' (see this, or this as examples).

Helpful for similar future projects: I see the philanthropy database project as an opportunity to understand the value and costs of similar database project approaches in other key EA research areas (e.g., longtermism, career choice, forecasting etc).

How is the philanthropy database project manifest right now?

The current database project is very basic. The database contains just under 1000 records and ‘lives’ on pages like this as a download link with supporting content (here as a RIS file and here as a CSV/spreadsheet). You need free bibliography software like Zotero to use it properly.

Virtually all of the current research included come from David's Innovations in fundraising database, READI's rapid review and from my personal database. 

The social media updates look like this article and this post (note that there will be several more of these over the next few months).

What could the philanthropy database project evolve into? 

The philanthropy database project could be greatly improved with time and resources. These are some examples of what might be possible.

Curation and searchability could be improved if all papers were tagged using a defined tag catalogue. If curious about designing an animal welfare website, for instance, you could narrow the results by selecting these tags: ‘website’ and ‘animals’ and immediately hone in on all relevant evidence.

Synthesis and actionability could be improved if we added an accompanying ‘living review’ - a review of the literature that is regularly updated, for instance, once each year. This could be a version of our previous review which has been revised and expanded to reflect the new information added in the database over the past x years. An organisation could review this each year to get a synthesis of the key findings on philanthropy.

User experience and discoverability could be improved if the database and social media content was all hosted within some sort of ‘philanthropy research toolkit’, potentially like a version of this website. User experience and discoverability would also be improved with a dedicated newsletter (potentially like the EA Behaviour Science Newsletter) to support dissemination.

FAQs 

Why not make the database project only about effective giving?

rather than just focus the database on effective giving I thought that it would make more sense to instead feature all relevant ‘promoting donations’ research and tagging some of that research as ‘effective giving’ where relevant. Here are some reasons why:

  • There is relatively little effective giving research
  • Much research on promoting normal philanthropy applies to promoting effective giving and will benefit the reader regardless of the effectiveness of your charity or the nature of your audience.
  • Most research promoting effective philanthropy will need to reference research on normal philanthropy
  • It seemed better to reach and engage a larger audience (i.e., those with a general interest in philanthropy) than the smaller pool of people interested in effective charity from both a growth and advocacy perspective.

Will practitioners actually use the database file?

I don’t expect so. I expect that practitioners will benefit most from the social media updates.  

Wouldn’t other types of research translation like workshops be more effective?

Yes, but they would require a lot more resources. The philanthropy database project won’t be as useful as other forms of research translation (e..g, providing workshops or tailored advice) but it is relatively low effort. More engaged research dissemination and support might be worthwhile in the longer term. 

How can you help?

I’d welcome feedback (negative or positive) here. This will dictate my future time allocation and prioritisation. 

If you know anyone who might potentially use this for research or in their work then I’d appreciate it if you could share the post with them.

If you're a researcher who has a relevant personal research database that we could add to the database then please email it to peter.slattery [at] monash.edu. You can usually export some, or all records as a RIS file from most software (XML is also fine). I will do the deduplication. I’ll also give you some acknowledgement for supporting the project!

If anyone is interested in getting involved with this work then please let me know. I’d be happy to pass this project over to someone with more time or interest and help support it instead of being the main person driving it.

Finally,  READI are evaluating the priority of improving our website. We are therefore curious about how our current website affects our impact. Please complete this short form to help.

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Feedback thread [updated 10/11]:

General feedback on the Philanthropy database project

  • EA behavioural science researcher 1:
    • [Suggests it best to focus on effective donation and maybe to devote time to research in that space instead] "I am slightly unsure about focusing on increasing donations in general (instead of shifting donations to effective charities).
      You are right that there’s not that much research yet on shifting donations to effective charities. But wouldn’t this then mean that we just need to do more empirical research about that?
      To the extent that you’d be interested in that, my hunch is that doing more empirical research (to fill these gaps in the literature) may be more impactful than synthesising existing research."
  • EA behavioural science researcher 2:
    • [Does this overlap with other projects] "Have you come across this Revolutionizing Philanthropy project lead by Rene Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking? https://osf.io/46e8x/ I know part of that is building a huge corpus of studies on all aspects of philanthropy but I’m not sure where it’s at so far... I guess one possibility would be to identify the subsection of the research covered in that project that relates to increasing giving specifically."
  • EA behavioural science researcher 3:
    • "Would be good to integrate this into the ‘Barriers to Effective Giving’ project."
    • [Might be useful to synthesise the general philanthropy literature] "To the extent that we are not trying to get people to shift, but simply presenting it as “give to these very effective causes”, then the literature on “what causes people to give more” becomes relevant, particularly if these things can be used as particular superpowers by the more effective charities.
    • [Might be useful to synthesise the effective philanthropy literature] "[I agree with the value of more effective giving research but] I think it would definitely be worthwhile to do more to synthesize the existing research that is particularly relevant to donations to effective charities.  There is not much research, but there is some, and there is more that in my opinion is buried in the file drawer and in appendices. And some of the published stuff should also be reconsidered more carefully and robustly."

Feedback on the philanthropy database 

  • Effective charity (1) director
    • I wouldn't personally use this database but I might find it useful to share with an in-house researcher or team.

Feedback on the Philanthropy database social media updates

Fwiw I'm EA behavioural science researcher 3, and I agree with your responses to EABSR's 1 and 2.